The Kentucky Derby crowd was treated to a good look at the reigning Horse of the Year on Saturday.
They were denied, however, a good look at what would have been a spectacular matchup against him.
Wise Dan won the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs by 43⁄4 lengths over Optimizer.
The race promised to be a gripping duel between Wise Dan and Point of Entry, but Point of Entry was a late scratch by trainer Shug McGaughey because the turf course was downgraded to yielding after it rained most of the afternoon.
That left it to Wise Dan to put on the show himself, and he delivered by winning his second start of 2013 and improving to 15-1-0 from 22 lifetime starts.
Other than a second to Ron the Greek in the Stephen Foster last year, the versatile Wise Dan has won nine starts since October of 2011, the last five of which have been Grade I’s.
Trainer Charles LoPresti said they’ll skip the Stephen Foster this time so that one of his other horses, Successful Dan, can run in that race.
“He [Wise Dan] won’t run again until Saratoga,” LoPresti said. “I’ve got to see what Successful Dan does. My goal is to get Successful Dan to the Stephen Foster.
“I’m just glad it’s over, that’s all. I love him, and I’m glad it’s over. I just want to go back to my barn and see it.”
What he’d see on the replay would be another authoritative move by Wise Dan, under Jose Lezcano, midway through the second turn to overtake Silver Max and Optimizer.
Optimizer, ridden by Joel Rosario, hung in there down the stretch, but Wise Dan resolutely pulled away.
“He responded like a champion today,” Lezcano said. “I had a perfect trip, and he felt very comfortable out there.”
“We got beat by a really good horse,” Rosario said. “That horse is really consistent, and he shows up every time. He’s the best.”
AFTER THE OAKS
Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar and trainer Todd Pletcher’s other three Oaks runners will head back to New York today and Monday.
Schenectady native Ed Stanco, who owns Princess of Sylmar as the principal partner in King of Prussia Stable, has said for years that his dream is to win one of the big stakes at Saratoga Race Course, but this year’s Alabama is too far in the future to consider as a target for Princess of Sylmar, he said.
“I’ll leave it up to Todd where she goes next,” he said on Friday evening, still basking in the glow of such an enormous victory for the only horse he has on the racetrack right now.
She rallied to catch Beholder in the final strides and win the Grade I Oaks by a half-length at odds of 38-1.
“When she was able to drop back and make a run, she was able to fire her best shot,” Pletcher said. “We thought she might have a chance if they gave her some pace, and they did.”
Trainer Richard Mandella said Beholder will get a little time before racing again.
Close Hatches, who beat Princess of Sylmar in the Gazelle at Aqueduct, finished a disappointing seventh in the Oaks under Joel Rosario.
“It was a bit of a head-scratcher,” said trainer Bill Mott’s assistant, Kenny McCarthy. “Maybe all the talk about how much speed was in there got to the rider.”
Stephanie’s Kitten returned to the site of her greatest win, and returned to the winner’s circle, too, by catching Hungry Island late for a neck win in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile.
She won the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf at Churchill Downs.
“She loves the course,” trainer Wayne Catalano said. “She won on a good racetrack [in 2011]. We didn’t know how soft it was, but it looked like it was perfect. We’ve been there before on these kind of trips where we had long layoffs. We’ve got a pretty good idea how to do it.”
The Distaff Turf Mile was Stephanie’s Kitten’s first start of 2013.
She was off for six months, finishing the 2012 season with a win in the Lake Placid at Saratoga and a sixth to Dayatthespa in the Grade I QEII Cup at Keeneland in October.
“Wayne told me to get out, make her comfortable, because there was going to be a good pace for us today,” jockey Julien Leparoux said. “And she finished the last quarter very good. I think the ground maybe is good for us today.”
Delaunay was a claimer a year ago, but now is a Grade II winner, after taking the Churchill Downs Stakes, and he beat an Eclipse Award winner in the process.
Trinniberg faded from first to seventh in the nine-horse field.
Delaunay, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, was the 9-5 favorite off five straight wins, all in stakes, but none graded.
“He’s such a cool horse,” Napravnik said. “He’ll do whatever you ask him. He’s very speedy, and he’ll relax if you need him to.”
“By far, it’s the best claim I ever made,” trainer Tom Amoss said. “I saw a horse that I thought was worth $40,000, which is what I paid. What’s different? I really don’t know. He’s just come around, and he looks great. He doesn’t look like a $40,000 horse, that’s for sure.”
Amoss claimed Delaunay, a son of Smoke Glacken, for owner Maggi Moss out of a claiming race at Churchill on May 12 of last year.
Aubby K is 2-for-2 in 2013 after finishing her 2012 season with an eight-place finish in the Test at Saratoga.
The daughter of Street Sense won the Grade I Humana Distaff under Edgar Prado by 11⁄2 lengths over Burban.
“That filly’s got a great running style,” Prado said. “She’s great out of the gate. You put her in contention, and she does her thing. She’s a pretty easy horse to ride.”
The Brazilian-bred Berlino di Tiger and jockey Leandro Goncalves held off a gutsy effort from 9-year-old gelding Chamberlain Bridge and jockey Miguel Mena to win the Grade III Turf Sprint by a nose at 11-1.
“I never thought he was going to get that close,” Goncalves said. “He kind of scared me.”
“One more jump,” Mena said. “He ran great. He just didn’t get there.”